Tag Archives: Scott Ludlam

SWF 2020, Post 4

I read a lot, but I’ve now listened to 20 podcasts from the virtual 2020 Sydney Writers’ Festival, and not only have I not read any of the books being discussed, but I haven’t read any books written by the people on the podcasts, not even, in the case of Kathy Lette, Puberty Blues. It’s some consolation that three the five sessions I’m blogging about here about about kinds of books that I rarely read these days, if I ever have.

Unlike previous sessions, each of these joined like with like: two Greens, two children of refugee parents, two YA genre writers, two journalists-turned-or-turning-crime novelists, two feminist comic performers.

Bob Brown: Planet Earth Jun 11, 2020

This chat between two environmental activists and former Greens Senators Bob Brown and Scott Ludlam is what you would expect. You (and I mean ‘I’) may not agree with Bob Brown’s every position and action, but he has surely been a major force for good in Austraoian politics. His voice is as richly sonorous as ever, and he challenges his listeners as much as he reassures. The pretext for this conversation is his new book Planet Earth, which from his description is a Little Green Book of quotations, tailor-made for this age of short attention spans, and probably to be found on the front counter of your local independent bookshop. Brown says at one point that he will be going to the Galilee Basin or elsewhere in the coming months, ‘to join with the people who are directly standing in the way of the destruction of those places,’ and he continues, challengingly and with his characteristic disdain for compromise:

It’s very hard to understand why people don’t, because to do nothing is to aid and abet the flourishing of the destruction of our planet and that’s gong faster than ever before in history. It’s very hard to understand why so many people think that that is outside their capability. It’s not. The Franklin would be dammed from end to end now had 6 thousand people not gone to Strachan in the early 80s and 1500 of those got arrested. It’s very fulfilling. I’ve not run into anybody who was arrested or gaoled during the Franklin campaign who hasn’t said, ‘That’s one of the greatest things that happened in my whole life. I’m so glad I did that.’ …

I keep saying that at the last election – 2May 2019 – ninety percent of Australians, and one must assume the majority of people listening to our conversation, voted for candidates who stood for more coal mines, more gas extraction, more forest destruction, which for the Liberal party, the National Party, the Labor Party, One Nation, is their ongoing policy. When I say this at meetings there’s always somebody who angrily comes up and says, ‘Well, I voted for one of the big parties, biggest parties, but I wasn’t voting for that.’ My answer to that is, ‘Yes, but that’s because the planet’s not your priority. Your wallet is. Take your choice, but that’s the reality.’

He has a little picture book in the works, and is planning Defiance, about taking action: ‘How do we take on what’s going wrong with the planet, and how do we catapult what’s going right with the planet into the predominant mode of action and thinking for eight million human beings?’


Vivian Pham: The Coconut Children Jun 15, 2020

This is a conversation between two Vietnamese-Australians, both children of refugees. An earlier version of Vivian Pham’s novel The Coconut Children was published a couple of years ago, when she was still a teenager. It was written as part of a project to encourage school children to write, and stands as a salutary reminder not to patronise young people. It’s a historical novel set in an era before Ms Pham was born, the late 1990s. In this podcast she talks to Sheila Ngoc Pham, who produces documentaries and stories for ABC Radio National, and who was the same age as the book’s characters in the year it’s set.

The conversation is most interesting – to me as a grisled elder – when it turns to Vivian Pham’s influences. Though the book’s characters are teenage Vietnamese migrants in Cabramatta, Shakespeare is a big presence, which he wasn’t in the original version. The author says that she was emboldened to have her characters quote Shakespeare by James Baldwin’s 1964 essay ‘Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare’. And there’s a wonderful couple of minutes where both speakers riff on their debt to James Baldwin. (I read The Fire Next Time in my late teens and felt lightbulbs flicking on all over the place: it was good to be reminded.)


Chris Hammer: Silver Jun 17, 2020

A couple of years back I looked at my probably life expectancy and my To Be Read shelf and decided not to read any more detective novels. So this conversation between two crime novelists wasn’t going to send me to the bookshop, at leas not for myself.

But it’s an interesting conversation anyhow, between Chris Hammer, much -lauded author of Scrublands and now Silver, and Paul Daley, journalist and author of a forthcoming novel Jesustown. They have been friends for a long time, encouraged each other to move from journalism to fiction, rejoiced in each other’s success. Their discussion of the differences between journalism and fiction writing is interesting. They talk about the two kinds of novelists, plotters and pantsers: plotters plan out the whole action of their books before they begin writing, sometimes to teh extent of writing a 300 page treatment, while pantsers proceed by the seat of their pants, and end up doing a lot of rewriting. Chris Hammer says that he’s a pantser, though for his third novel he’s learning to be more of a plotter. When Silver had been accepted for publication, he announced to his editor that he had decided to change the ending, and with her blessing proceeded to rewrite the last 45 pages.

My resolve not to read crime novels was sorely tested when he read the opening pages of his next novel. But I’ll wait for the movie, which will be a cracker.


Writing on a Knife’s Edge Jun 17, 2020

This session is about YA genre literature. Not that YA is a genre – the term indicates that the publishers, or at least the marketing department, consider a book suitable for teen readers, and such books can be in any genre.

It’s three-way conversation. ABC Radio’s Rhianna Patrick talks to two YA authors, Sarah Epstein (Deep Water) and Astrid Scholte (The Vanishing Deep). Among other things the plotter–pantser binary is discussed again, though not with those labels. My sense is that this conversation was really for the fans, or at least for the YA literature community. There was no YA literature in my teenage years, and I’ve got a very spotty acquaintance with the field, so I was very much an outsider listening in. I imagine that insiders will enjoy it a lot.


Kathy Lette Gets Candid 22 Jun 2020

Kathy Lette’s new novel is  HRT: Husband Replacement Therapy. She discusses it with Wendy Harmer, stand-up comedian and now ABC radio morning host.

Somewhere during their conversation, Kathy Lette, rebutting the cliché that women aren’t funny, talks about the way women talk when no man are around. This podcast is probably an example of what she means.

The conversation opens with the kind of joking-not-joking-I’m-not-bitter comments about men that used to appear in the Australian Women’s Weekly‘s ‘Mere Male’ column in the 1950s. Later, when the conversation turns serious and Kathy Lette’s relentless punning and wordplay ease up for a moment, she says that the world needs men to step up as allies to women against patriarchy, and she rejoices at some evidence that this is happening among young men. But there has been so much clever stereotyping and objectifying of men in what went before that it I found it hard to hear this as anything but dutifulness to the sisterhood.

Men, Kathy Lette complained, don’t read novels by women. Well, I haven’t read any of her books, but if they’re about post-menopausal women swinging from chandeliers with toy boys between their teeth, or encouraging women to stand firm on their own two stilettos, which was the kind of thing that took up a lot of this conversation, or about three fifty-something sisters caught up in sexual rompery on a Cougar cruise, which evidently is the set-up of HRT, I won’t be adding them to my TBR list.


I’m not complaining. I probably wouldn’t have signed up for any of these sessions at a flesh-and-blood festival, and each of them gave me a glimpse into whole worlds most of which I had only the vaguest notion of beforehand.

SWF 2019 Saturday

My second day at the festival turned out to be fairly light on – just two events.

We had double booked for the 11.30 am session, and reluctantly chose to pass on to friends our tickets to Akala‘s sold-out session (the Festival has a no-refunds and virtually-no-exchanges policy). The Emerging Artist then went to The Kingdom and the Power: Saudi Arabia, and I went to:


Poetic Justice. This was in ‘Track 12’, a small theatre space that was only about a fifth full, but soundproof. Dunya Mikhail, Iraqi journalist and poet now living in the USA in exile was in conversation with US poet Michael Kelleher.

Dunya Mikhail’s most recent work is a non-fiction prose work, The Beekeeper of Sinjar, but for the sake of this session she was a poet. Unusually, I turned up with a question in mind. Having learned from an excellent issue of Southerly edited by Laetitia Nanquette and Ali Alizadeh that poetry occupies a central and honoured place in Iranian culture, I wondered if the same was true of Iraq. The question was given added point by the apparent discontinuation of the lively strand of poetry events at this festival, and by Fiona Wright’s admittedly facetious defensiveness about her poet identity on Friday.

My question was answered resoundingly in the positive. Actually, it was implicitly answered in Dunya Mikhail’s whole demeanour and way of speaking. Michael Kelleher asked her to read the title poem from her first collection, The War Works Hard, which manages to be both slyly witty and devastating, and then invited her to talk about her first 15 years, the only years of her life when there has not been war in Iraq. She painted a marvellous picture: children in Baghdad lived their lives on the roofs or the streets. It’s a big city, but if a child wandered too far from home, someone would always bring them back.

She spoke of the ancient Mesopotamian practice of burying the dead with food and water to sustain their bodies and poetry to nourish their souls in the afterlife. And it is still the practice in Iraq to have poetry recited at funerals – bad poetry at her father’s funeral, she said. There is a strong oral poetry tradition of which the funeral poems are a part, and poetry is held in high esteem: when she was about to go into exile, a friend was concerned, not whether she would be able to continue working as a journalist (she hasn’t really) but whether she would sill be recognised as a poet (she has been).

Though was brought up Catholic, religious, ethnic, or linguistic differences weren’t used as pretexts for mistreatment in her childhood, she said: the oppressive regime was pretty even handed on those matters. And the Qur’an has a surah about poets.

Asked if the 1001 Nights had been an influence, she said not directly: she had heard many of those stories, and others, from her grandmother, and they had found their way into her poetry.

Poetry, she said, has literally saved her life: she put ‘Poet’ on her passport when she thought she was going to travel to the US as a young woman; that fell through, but much later when she was fleeing the country because it had become seriously dangerous to be a journalist, the official at the airport noted that she was a ‘Poet’, and waved her through.

She spoke interestingly about translation. Poetry, she realised when she started writing poetry in the US, was her true homeland. Now, she writes her poems in Arabic and translates them herself. She prefers to do this because she has more freedom than a translator who is not her. In effect, she produces two distinct poems.

I don’t think I mentioned that yesterday, talking about mental illness, Fiona Wright and Luke Carman agreed that writing doesn’t work terribly well as therapy. Dunya Mikhail echoed their sentiment in response to a question about the role of poetry in terrible situations such as Saddam’s Iraq or the decades of war since his overthrow. ‘My poetry,’ she said, ‘will not save. Poetry doesn’t heal a wound, but it is a way to see it and understand it.’

Michael Kelleher was an exemplary interlocutor – self effacing, well-informed, flexible, and asking questions that opened doors.


We went home for lunch etcetera, then I caught the bus back intending to go to the 3 o’clock session, Blak Brow: Blak Women Take Control, with Evelyn Araluen and other first Nations women poets. But it was a free session and I’d forgotten about the SWF queues. I arrived at 2.45 to see a queue of about 30 people, who turned out to be the ones who were left over once the room was full. So I went home and finished blogging about Friday.


After an early dinner we went downtown for Lie to Me: An Evening of Storytelling at Sydney Town Hall. Our tickets were for General Admission in the stalls, so we arrived with more than half an hour to spare. The queue that snaked around Town Hall Square must have been a thousand people long, but we eventually got decent seats, and the readers/performers all appeared on a huge screen as well as in their tiny persons, so all was well.

I hadn’t looked closely at the program, and was half expecting a fun evening along the lines of that British TV show where you have to guess whether a panellist is telling an outrageous lie or an even more outrageous truth. That’s not what I got.

Benjamin Law, warm, suave and revealing naked ankles, did a great job as host. Each of six story-tellers delivered their piece, and then had a brief chat with him.

Patricia Cornelius, whose plays I’m ashamed to say I’ve not seen any of, read the powerful opening monologue from a new play, Julia, which turned out to be about child sexual abuse and the Catholic church, and added something I didn’t understand about Julian Assange. Chatting with Benjamin, she said she didn’t care for naturalistic drama, and often wrote dialogue in a very poetic move, but no one seemed to notice.

Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran’s opening gambit was to say that though she knew we expected her to talk about politics, she was going to tell some long concealed truths about herself. ‘I was a concubine in Saudi Arabia for ten years,’ she said, and before we could even gasp, she went on, ‘It was fun.’ She then reeled off a string of sordid, deeply cynical and increasingly improbable confessions. All these things had been written about her, she said, and not by Twitter trolls but by prominent journalists. She went on to talk about the absence of shame about lying in public life under neo-liberalism, and not only in Turkey. The idea of freedom, she said, has been corrupted so that it now applies only to consumption and sex.

Tim Soutphommasane, former Race Discrimination Commissioner, spoke soberly of the foundational stories of Australia, about our fabled egalitarianism and commitment to the fair go, which he argued don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Nayuka Gorrie, a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer, warmed us up by chatting about the Harry Potter movie where Harry is accused of lying when he has told an uncomfortable truth, and his punishment includes ‘I must not tell lies’ being magically carved into the skin of his arm. Then they spoke powerfully about the lies that colonisation depended on – White lies about Black truths, repeated in curriculums, in literature, in speeches, until they become accepted as truths.

Oyinkan Braithwaite gave a deceptively modest talk. She began with assertions young women make to each other. ‘All men are cheats,’ for example. And she talked about things she learned about the oppression of women in Nigeria when she challenged these assertions.

Scott Ludlam was the only one in my festival who spoke about climate change. Memorably, he said that the Antarctic ice shelfs haven’t even heard of Tony Abbott.

And the evening finished with a song by Megan Washington: I’m probably showing my age here, but I wish they’d managed to get Tim Minchin.

The Invitation (conclusion)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment takes us to the end.

A lone voice in the chamber, he goes on.
‘You’re planning to destroy the NBN;
your A-G, Brandis, bows before the con
of NSA snoop-crimes (has he no yen
for self-respect?). And now the word has gone
out on the Web. Nerds, geeks and coders, then
gamers, are for the first time turning Green,
thanks to your tech-illiterate machine.

‘Most deeply, your campaign to stir up fear –
of people fleeing violence and war –
hoping Australians would accept the smear
and bring our worst impulses to the fore,
instead is bringing out the best. Oh dear
PM, you are most welcome to take your
heartless racist policies and ram
them where tax-payer funded travel scams

‘are hidden and the western sun don’t shine.
What is at stake on by-election day
is whether this man owns the root and vine
of parliament for years. Another way:
we want our country back. Chance, not design,
some ballots lost, required this replay:
we have the opportunity to wrest
one seat back now. Game on, PM. Come west.’

Scott Ludlam, Greens, in purple tie, sat down
to no applause, but now, if your desire is
to see the whole thing, you can go to town
on YouTube where it’s spreading like a virus.

Go, little poem. I pray that Scott won’t frown
at this hommage from one of his admirers.
I’ve changed some meanings, forced by Rhyme, the hoodlum.
What’s vile is mine, what’s fine is made by Ludlam.

Here ends the poem. The Senate by-election campaign is in full swing in WA. Scott Ludlam’s Twitter handle is @SenatorLudlam.

The Invitation (part three)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment, only three stanzas, takes us to 5:47 of 7:34.

‘It’s 30 years since Greens first called for sanity
against the Cold War nuclear suicide pact.
We’ve fanned the flames for renewable energy.
We’ve fought for values too often attacked:
innovation, learning and equality.
We’ve honoured the First Peoples, and we’ve backed
worldwide resistance to the damage from
worldwide misuse of our uranium.

‘Mr Abbott, your deeds have been noted.
Perth light rail’s millions cancelled, that’s been noted.
Blank cheque for bloody cull of sharks here, noted.
Medicare, schools funding attacks, noted.
Environmental duties outsourced, noted.
Sell-out to Hollywood and biotech, noted.
Between big business and the common good:
we note each time you choose. We note it good.

‘So to be blunt, Prime Minister, the reason
I invite you over west for as much time
as you can spare, is that in pre-poll season
your every utterance makes our vote climb.
Your fracker friends and their like might just breeze in
but hundreds see their actions as a crime
and in the last few weeks have knocked on doors
of thousands more. Your presence helps our cause.’

To be concluded, hopefully tomorrow.

The Invitation (part two)

Continuing ‘The Invitation’, my versification of Scott Ludlam’s speech. Today’s instalment, only three stanzas, takes us to 3:13 of 7:34.

‘Sandgropers have a generous, welcoming soul,
but if when here you boast of your endeavour
to bankrupt the alternatives to coal,
hamstring the ABC, and also sever
state funds from SBS, to dig a hole
and bury same-sex marriage; of your ever
more insidious attacks on work-
ing people, then we’ll treat you like a jerk.

‘Life’s hard enough without three years of you
and your lot working hard to make things worse.
Awkward that you seek out the point of view
of billionaires and oligarchs averse
to Sunday loadings, decent pay – ah, true,
less awkward than revolting. But this curse
will pass. Your sad benighted time won’t last.
We need to raise our sights. The world is vast.

‘The reign of dinosaurs in the cretaceous
was cut short – Oops! dead, buried and cremated!
A like surprise may lurk – Oh goodness gracious! –
in store for you, Hon Tony, perhaps you’re slated
to be just a thin greasy layer of ashes
for research into politics that’s dated
early 21st CE.’ I smile.
He’s having fun. Chris Kenny called it vile.

To be continued. (Chris Kenny’s exchange with Senator Ludlam at the link is amusing.)

The Invitation (part one)

Eighteen months or so ago, I ventured on the huge (for me) task of versifying an Alan Jones press conference. You can read its five parts here, here, here, here and here. It wasn’t great art but it was fun to do. For quite different reasons – hommage rather than dommage – I’ve undertaken  a similar thing with a recent speech by WA Senator Scott Ludlam. My versification is no match for the eloquence of the original, and the ruthless demands of rhyme result in quite a bit of distortion of the meaning. I’ve skipped over some bits, in particular some party-political moments, but I hope I’ve captured something of the speech’s greatness. Here’s Part One, which takes us to 1:47 of the 7:34 video:

The Invitation
The Senate chamber, ten at night, when bed
or business has led all to quit the scene
save two, who sit in the expanse of red –
not red themselves: a Liberal and a Green.
Scott Ludlam stands to say what must be said,
main audience a future YouTube screen:
his last speech in this place before the poll
to make up for the one that someone stole.

‘Tonight I rise,’ he says, ‘to bid you come,
Prime Minister, to visit my home state,
the beautiful Westralia. Do please come.
I ask in all good faith, because our fate
is on the line. I ask respectfully: come.
You’re welcome here, but please first contemplate
the baggage that you pack for your stopover,
though it be brief, a campaign supernova.

‘You will alight on Whadjuk Nyoongar earth
where Derbal Yerigan (the Swan)’s been sung,
two hundred times as long as there’s been Perth.
Mount Druitt’s further off than Mount Agung.
The drought here’s never-ending. There’s a dearth
of housing fit for purchase by the young.
We live with climate change, we know it drives
the loss of jobs, and property and lives.

‘Prime Minister, I beg you, leave back east
your boring three-word slogans. Read us right!
Not as redneck monsters whose hearts feast
on Manus Island horrors. Though you might
call us ‘the mining state’ as if the beast
that benches, chops and  blasts as if by right
a third of this great continent was us.’
Mild mannered, neat, he turns a page. No fuss.

To be continued.